|This page in a nutshell: Playing games with policies and guidelines in order to avoid the spirit of consensus, or thwart the intent and spirit of policy, is strictly forbidden.|
Gaming the system means deliberately using Wikipedia policies and guidelines in bad faith to thwart the aims of Wikipedia. Gaming the system may represent an abuse of process, disruptive editing, or otherwise evading the spirit of community consensus. Editors typically game the system to make a point, to further an edit war, or to enforce a specific non-neutral point of view.
If an editor finds a loophole or trick that allows them to evade community standards or misuse administrator tools, it should not be treated the same as a good-faith mistake. However, Wikipedia sanctions are meant to be preventative, not punitive. A warning from an administrator is usually the best way to prevent gaming, because a clear warning should help correct both good-faith mistakes and bad-faith games. If an editor ignores a warning and repeats their behavior, or if they find new creative ways to achieve the same disruption, it is more likely that they are gaming the system in bad faith.
The meaning of "gaming the system"
The card player on the left is gaming the system of card-playing in bad faith, because he has two cards hidden behind his back.
An editor gaming the system is seeking to use policy in bad faith, by finding within its wording some apparent justification for disruptive actions and stances that policy is clearly not at all intended to support. In doing this, the gamester separates policies and guidelines from their rightful place as a means of documenting community consensus, and attempts to use them selectively for a personal agenda. An editor is disruptive if they are using a few words of policy to claim support for a viewpoint which clearly contradicts those policies, to attack a genuinely policy-based stance by willfully misapplying Wikipedia policies, or to derail Wikipedia processes.
Gaming the system may include:
- Wikilawyering, pettifogging, and otherwise using the letter of policy to violate the broader principles of the policy.
- Filibustering the consensus-building process by reverting another editor for minor errors, or sticking to a viewpoint that the community has clearly rejected.
- Attempting to twist Wikipedia sanctions or processes to harass other editors.
In each case, willfulness or knowing is important. Misuse of policy, guidelines or practice is not gaming if it is based upon a genuine mistake. But it may well be, if it is deliberate, where the editor continues to game policy even when it is clear there is no way they can reasonably claim to be unaware.
Actions that game the system may also overlap with other policies:
- Misusing Wikipedia processes to put another editor in an invidious position, prove a point, or muddy the water in a dispute, can also be a form of gaming. However it is more often categorized as using Wikipedia to prove a point or abuse of process.
- Using policies and guidelines to build (or push) a patently false case that some editor is editing in bad faith, with the "evidence" for this itself being an obviously unreasonable bad-faith interpretation of that person's action. This is more often categorized as a breach of the guideline to assume good faith, and in particular, repeated unjustified "warnings" may also be viewed as a breach of civility.
- If gaming is also knowingly used as a basis to impugn another editor or to mischaracterize them as bad-faith editors, then this may also violate the policy of no personal attacks.
Disruption of any kind merits being warned (or blocked) by an administrator. Violating the principles of Wikipedia's behavior guidelines may prejudice the decision of administrators or the Arbitration Committee.
There are several types of gaming the system. The essence of gaming is the willful and knowing misuse of policies or processes. The following is an (incomplete) list of examples. Actions that are similar to the below, where there is no evidence of intent to act improperly, are usually not considered gaming.
- Bad-faith wikilawyering – arguing the word of policy to defeat the principles of policy.
- Example: Posting a neutral notice that does not violate the policy on canvassing, while using a different set of notifications to lure a partisan audience to view that neutral notice.
- Playing policies against each other.
- Example: Saying that you refuse to remove content that violates the policy on verifiability, because that content is protected by the policy that "Wikipedia is not censored".
- Selectively "cherry-picking" wording from a policy (or cherry-picking one policy to apply but willfully ignoring others) to support a view which does not in fact match policy.
- Example: Adding content that is restricted under the policy on what Wikipedia is not, while cherry-picking the words that "Wikipedia is not a paper encyclopedia" to evade those restrictions.
- Spuriously and knowingly claiming protection, justification, or support under the words of a policy, for a viewpoint or stance which actually contradicts policy.
- Example: Saying that content meets the policy on verifiability because it is cited to a source, when in fact the source is not reliable, or the content twists the source's point of view. (
- Attempting to force an untoward interpretation of policy, or impose one's own novel view of "standards to apply" rather than those of the community.
- Example: Presenting a Wikipedia essay that was written by a single editor as though it were a consensus policy.
Gaming the consensus-building process
- Stonewalling or filibustering – repeatedly pushing a viewpoint with which the consensus of the community clearly does not agree, effectively preventing a policy-based resolution.
- Example: An editor refuses to accept a change unless some condition is complied with, but it is not a condition that has any basis in Wikipedia policies and guidelines.
- Example: Editors reach a consensus, except one (or a tagteam) insisting that the change sought violates some policy or other principle, in a way they cannot clearly demonstrate.
- Bad-faith negotiating – Luring other editors into a compromise by making a concession, only to withhold that concession after the other side has compromised.
- Example: An editor negotiates a consensus to remove well-verified material from one article, because it is already covered in a second article. Afterward, the editor deletes the material from the second article.
- Example: Editors reach a consensus. The author of the final agreed text is supposed to post it, but never does. Weeks later, a second editor tires of waiting and posts a modified version, which the first editor immediately reverts.
- Example: An editor withholds agreement to a change unless additional, more satisfactory sources are provided, but declares all the new sourcing to be unsatisfactory despite the citation work clearly fulfilling the core content policies.
- Removing a large addition for a minor error. If the error is minor, then fix it (or at least tag it for clean-up). Perfection is not required, and Wikipedia is built through incremental improvement.
- Example: An editor adds a paragraph of verifiable information, but it is removed entirely because of a typographical error that could easily be fixed.
- Example: An editor performs page-wide, uncontroversial copy editing and code cleanup, but another editor thinks some ostensibly minor changes subtly altered the meaning of two sentences, and so reverts several hours of work instead of just the two disputed changes.
- Employing gaslighting tactics – such as history re-writing, reality denial, misdirection, baseless contradiction, projection of one's own foibles onto others, repetition, or off-topic rambling – to destabilize a discussion by sowing doubt and discord.
- Examples: denying that you posted what you did, suggesting someone agreed to something they did not, pretending your question has not already been answered, misrepresenting what a policy actually says or means, prevaricating about the obvious meaning of a claim, or refusing to concede when your position has been disproved or rejected by consensus.
Gaming of sanctions for disruptive behavior
- Mischaracterizing other editors' actions to make them seem unreasonable, improper, or deserving of sanction.
- Example: Refusing to provide a proper citation to an editor looking to verify your claim, and accusing the editor of being disruptive for making repeated requests. Citations should be accurate so that other editors may verify them.
- "Walking back" a personal attack to make it seem less hostile than it was, rather than apologizing.
- Example: An editor responds to a disagreement by saying, "You're obviously wrong, wrong, wrong. Did you even pass grade 10 history?" Later, they defend this statement as a good-faith question about the other editor's education.
- "Borderlining" – habitually treading the edge of policy breach or engaging in low-grade policy breach, to make it hard to actually prove misconduct.
- Example: An editor never violates the three-revert rule, but takes several months to repeatedly push the same edits over the objections of multiple editors.
- Retribution: Deliberately reverting an editor's edits in one article in retaliation for a dispute in another.
- Example: Editor A reverts an edit made by Editor B because it did not adhere to a neutral point of view and they did not provide a reliable source. Editor B starts a discussion on the talk page in which Editor A participates, but the discussion fails to generate consensus. Later on, Editor B reverts a well-sourced, neutral addition that Editor A made, saying that it did not comply with the Manual of Style.
- Playing victim: Violating a rule and at the same time claiming that others are in violation of the same or a closely related rule. Also known as hypocrisy.
- Example: Editor A posts uncivil comments while at the same time accusing Editor B of uncivil behavior, demanding sanctions and citing policies that Editor A clearly violates.
Since Wikipedia is not a court of law, many legal procedures or terms have no bearing on Wikipedia. Typically, wikilawyering raises procedural or evidentiary points in a manner analogous to that used in formal legal proceedings, often using ill-founded legal reasoning. Occasionally wikilawyering may raise legitimate questions, including fairness, but often it serves to evade an issue or obstruct the crafting of a workable solution. For example, it is often impossible to definitely establish the actual user behind a set of sockpuppets, and it is not a defense that none of the sockpuppets which emerge were named in the request for arbitration.
Various levels of intent
Use of the term "gaming the system" should be done with caution, as it can be interpreted as an accusation of bad-faith editing. Although users might engage in the practices described above, that activity should not be considered proof of malicious intent. The actual level of intent should also be considered separately, as to whether the action was pre-meditated, or spur-of-the-moment, or merely copying an older tactic that seemed effective for other editors in the past. The term gaming the system is not meant to vilify those involved, with the word "gaming" also referring to playful activity in the manner of a game of sport. The goal is to focus on Wikipedia activities as a serious effort to improve articles, not an arena for playing games and sparring with opponents as a form of amusement. Judging intent might include discussions with others, rather than escalate the situation as an issue for direct confrontation. The situation might warrant special mediation or perhaps even, in extreme cases, formal arbitration . The risks of continued involvement should be carefully considered, especially if the intent seems overly severe or obsessive–compulsive behavior. However clear such an intent might subjectively seem, one should not cast aspersions about the mentalities or motivations of other editors. Wikipedia has a variety of noticeboards for dealing with problematic editing behavior, patterns of which tend to speak for themselves when properly diffed with evidence.
Abuse of process
Abuse of process is related to gaming. It involves knowingly trying to use the communally agreed and sanctioned processes described by some policies, to advance a purpose for which they are clearly not intended. Abuse of process is disruptive, and depending on circumstances may be also described as gaming the system, personal attack, or disruption to make a point. Communally agreed processes are intended to be used in good faith.
What is "intent", consciously or otherwise, and what actually is "good"-enough-"faith" must also be clearly defined. Only then, the definers's power and status position must also be openly noted when making such any determinations. The common assumptions that what is claimed as "communally agreed" must include more than a select group, and thus is also a questionable number, perhaps unverifiable, and even if is said to be any legitimate majority of contributors -like those who were recently allowed to write on WP. Vague words of idealistic concepts are dangerous and may be misleading from what is then experienced in actuality when reading or writing on WP.